Welcome back to Pet Parenting. Northwest Arkansas pet behavior counselor, Denise Holmes, walks us through all sorts of pet problems in this question-and-answer feature. Denise, who owns a local private counseling business Ain’t Misbehavin’, has been training animals for 25 years. Here’s our newest question:
Q: My 8-year-old son wants a pet, but I’m not sure I’m ready for anything that sheds. Still, I know it’s probably good for him to learn how to take care of an animal, right?
A: Whether or not it’s good for a child to learn to care for an animal is a matter of opinion. You’re asking a trainer, so of course, I would say “YES”. Pets provide company, unconditional love and a way for children to learn and practice empathy. However, at 8 years old, we both know that Mom is going to be the primary caretaker, or at the very least the constant reminder, to feed, water, clean etc., the pet. So, if you aren’t ready for a pet or it isn’t the type of pet you’d want to have, then the time isn’t right.
If you’re unsure about whether or not you’re ready, but are thinking of giving it a try, ‘pocket pets,’ such as gerbils, hamsters, guinea pigs and rats make great first-time pets for young children. It’s a pet the child can feed and water daily, but not worry too much about clean up or exercise. Weekly maintenance on the cage environment should be all that’s necessary to keep things clean and that is a chore you can do together. My favorite first-time pet for children is a rat. I know most moms are thinking “RAT?! Forget it!” but they are very clean, very smart and very social. You can even teach a rat to play fetch with you. A rat will definitely want/need more attention than say, a gerbil, but they can also be pretty darn affectionate.
When I was in high school a girl friend of mine had a rat named Poopy-Snotnose (he had a cold when she got him). He used to ride around in the car with us, on our shoulders and hang out in our hair, when we went out cruisin.’ It was kinda cool and I’ve always liked rats since then.